Presser Notes: Palafox Plans and the Virtual City

by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

With businesses around the state beginning to reopen as coronavirus-related safety measures are rolled back, city of Pensacola officials have plans they hope will help downtown’s restaurants and retail return successfully.

“We’re hoping that this will support our local businesses and that they can begin to recover the COVID-19 impacts,” Mayor Grover Robinson said during his weekly press conference Monday. “This is really about trying to help them during this transition, as we go from phase one into phase two and do it in a responsible way.”

The mayor explained that the city was currently working with the Downtown Improvement Board to work out the details to a plan that involves closing Palafox Pl. to vehicular traffic and allowing businesses to make use of the sidewalks.

“Our goal and ideal was that both restaurant and retail could use the sidewalk and then we’d have people walking the street on either side,” Robinson said.

The mayor said the details should be finalized later this week, but that the plan will likely involve closing Palafox on the weekends, during Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday.

“We’re still working out logistics,” he said.

Robinson explained that efforts were being made to invite patrons to downtown brick-and-mortar businesses because many people may be getting use to making purchases by other means, such as online.

“We certainly understand that many people, for a variety of reasons, may have changed their buying patterns, or eating-at-restaurants pattern, their shopping patterns,” the mayor said, later adding that he thought patrons would make a “cautious” return to businesses. “I don’t think people will shop post-COVID like they did pre-COVID.”

Robinson said that since coronavirus-closures went into effect, the downtown landscape has become a ghost of its current self.

“Certainly the last two months have been challenging down here,” he said.. “In fact, you could almost drive downtown and it looks like it did back in the Eighties, almost, for a while. Nobody was down here.”

Virtual City

While business around the city will be reopening, the city itself isn’t. While municipal services, like sanitation, never stopped, the ones that have made a transition into virtual territory are remaining there for now and things that are closed up are staying that way.

City employees that are working remotely will continue to do so. City Council meetings will continue to be held online. Community centers and youth recreation leagues are still shut down.

“We feel like anything that we do that creates connections increases risk, and at this time we feel that it is irresponsible for the government to take on additional risks,” Mayor Robinson said.

The mayor explained that the city would reopen when businesses around the area could fully reopen.

“When they’re back to work and their businesses are running and the city is safe, the city of Pensacola will come back, we’ll open up all of our services as well as we go into phase two,” he said.

Cleaning Up Bayou Texar

The mayor also discussed Monday a project designed to further clean Bayou Texar. The Bayou Texar Stormwater Treatment Enhancement Project begins this week and will treat runoff going into the bayou.

This project, which is expected to take about 15 weeks to complete, will involve constructing outfalls at Bayou Boulevard as well as Perry, Blount and Avery streets.

“The goal of this project is to run underground stormwater treatment units for these three sub-basins that currently discharge untreated stormwater runoff into Bayou Texar,” Robinson said.